School Climate & Environment
“School” should not be equated with a building. It is a complex environment with many participants and stakeholders–children, parents, teachers, school leaders, staff, community partners and more. CEI believes that creating positive, supportive learning environments is absolutely essential to promote academic and intellectual development.
Some of the programs and strategies we support in public schools are:
- Creating Smaller Learning Communities – No matter what the size of a school’s student population, it is critical to offer small learning communities (SLCs) where teachers, students and families are able to get to know one another well and be mutually supportive. Among the strategies CEI helps schools use to establish SLCs are: full restructuring of large schools into smaller but linked units (e.g. theme-based “academies”); teaming of teachers and student cohorts within and across grade levels and subject areas; multi-age grouping of students to provide transitional support across grade levels; advisories where small groups of students meet regularly with one teacher to discuss academic, social and emotional issues.
- School-Wide Positive Behavioral Support – For well over three decades, schools have been using Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) systems (sometimes referred to as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports or PBIS) to bring an asset-based approach to youth development and support for social and emotional needs. In the past 10-15 years, schools have worked to expand the approach to a broader system model known as “School-wide Positive Behavioral Support” (SWPBS), which uses a three tier system of interventions and prevention planning similar to the tiered approach of Response to Intervention (RtI) utilized for students with learning disabilities. The first (and largest) tier of support is “universal” support, which explicitly teaches and reinforces behavioral expectations for all students. SWPBS assumes approximately 80% of students will respond to this level of support. The secondary level includes targeted interventions such as small group instruction in social skills and is aimed at an estimated 10-15% of students deemed “at risk” due to academic performance, attendance or other factors. Finally, an intensive individual (tertiary) level of support provides focused interventions to the approximate 1-5% of students who do not respond to less intensive services. CEI helps schools develop SWPBS systems by supporting them to: 1) organize and train a SWPBS team; 2) define behavioral expectations; 3) teach behavioral expectations; 4) implement systems to encourage expected behaviors and discourage inappropriate behaviors; 5) collect data to make decisions and evaluate effectiveness.
- Bullying Prevention Programs – The SWPBS approach (described above) takes a positive, asset-based approach to youth development. Along with this effort to build positive behaviors among middle-grade students, schools should also establish clear programs to address the pervasive problem of bullying. Having a clear definition of what bullying is, public directions for how students can report incidents of bullying, and the policies and practices that the school uses to address incidents are foundational elements of an effective bullying prevention program. CEI has helped schools and school systems across New York State, Massachusetts and abroad (Chile) design bullying prevention programs to address both in-person and cyberbullying.
- Restorative Justice – Restorative justice is a philosophy based on a set of principles that guide the response to conflict and harm away from traditional punitive models to approaches that emphasize accountability, community safety and development of pro-social skills. It provides ways to effectively address behavior and other complex school issues, including offering a supportive environment, improving school safety and providing alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Restorative justice programs have formal guidelines and trained individuals to deal with conflict and violations of school rules. CEI helps schools develop restorative justice programs, which can take many forms in schools, including peer juries, student mediators and peacemaking circles.
- Franklin Covey Leader in Me Program – Over the past year, CEI has been partnering with the Franklin Covey “The Leader in Me” Program to help students develop the essential life skills and characteristics students need in order to thrive in the 21st century. The Leader in Me program is aligned with a school’s core curriculum and helps schools: Develop students who have the skills and self-confidence to succeed as leaders in the 21st century; Decreases discipline referrals; Teach and develop character and leadership through existing core curriculum; Improve academic achievement; Raises levels of accountability and engagement among both parents and staff.